"Great Peace Have Those Who Love Your Law, and Nothing Causes Them to Stumble" (Psalm 119:129-176) January 30-31
In the Pe stanza (verses 129-136) the psalmist begins with the wonder of God's Word and ends with anguish over people not obeying it.
Verse 130 in the NKJV says, "The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple." The word translated
entrance" literally means "opening." Some versions render it as "unfolding" (NIV, NASB, NRSV). The parallelism here shows "light" to signify understanding, as in verse 105. The idea in verse 130 might merely be that of unrolling a scroll of Scripture, or opening up a Bible today, so as to read it and gain understanding. Yet it could more figuratively signify God opening up the meaning of Scripture to a person's mind. After Jesus explained the Old Testament Scriptures to His companions on the road to Emmaus, they remarked, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32).
"Simple" in Psalm 119:130 may have the same sense as its occurrence in 16:6-meaning uncomplicated through guile, and thus straightforward and innocent. Yet it might also indicate those looked on as uneducated-here receiving a far superior education through God's Word and inspiration (compare John 7:14-16; Luke 10:21; Acts 4:13; 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16).
The poet likens his desire for God's commandments to panting with thirst (Psalm 119:131), recalling imagery used in other psalms
(42:1-2; 63:1). Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).
The author next makes an appeal to God's mercy on the basis of this being God's "custom" toward those who love Him (Psalm 119:132). In fact, the word translated "custom" here is mishpat, the term for God's legal judgments throughout the psalm. This is in fact God's law for
Himself-part of His personal inviolable code of conduct. Indeed, this is codified in the Ten Commandments, where God promises to show mercy to those who love Him (see Exodus 20:6).
It is interesting to note in the next verses (Psalm 119:133-134) that the psalmist prays to be kept free from sin before then asking to be freed (redeemed, bought back-compare verse 154) from human oppression-and even in the latter case, the request is so that he may continue to live a life of obedience to God. God redeems us today from sin and affliction for this same purpose-that we may live in accordance with His will.
The phrase "Make Your face shine upon Your servant" (verse 135a) is adapted from the priestly blessing that God said was to be used to bless His people (see Numbers 6:25). The symbolism of shining light would seem to tie back to the light of understanding in Psalm 119:130-and indeed we see the plea for this blessing followed by a renewed request to be taught God's statutes (verse 135b).
The stanza ends with the poet lamenting that he has shed many tears because of people not obeying God's law (verse 136). It is not clear whether he is referring to his own suffering from those committing lawless deeds in abusing him (compare verses 121-123, 126, 134) or whether he is referring to people in general dishonoring God and hurting themselves through their sins-a great tragedy over which to mourn (compare Jeremiah 9:1; Ezekiel 9:4; Luke 19:41-42; Philippians 3:18).
In the Tsadde strophe (verses 137-144) the psalmist uses the words "righteous" and "righteousness" five times in connection with God and His Word-these terms in the original Hebrew connoting a straight line, perfect alignment. God's testimonies are also "very faithful" (verse 138)-"fully trustworthy" (NIV). His Word, in its commands and promises, is "very pure" (verse 140)-in the sense of "thoroughly tested" (NIV; compare 12:6). The author speaks from personally experiencing the benefits of God's Word (see verses 97-104).
Verse 139, "My zeal has consumed me, because my enemies have forgotten Your words," could mean either that their disobedience has further incited him to take a stand against them (compare verse 53) or that his suffering at their hands has ultimately served to strengthen him in his resolve to follow God. (Compare also Psalm 69:9; John 2:17).
Although the poet feels "small and despised" and "trouble and anguish have overtaken" him (verses 141, 143), he remembers God's precepts. In contrast to the trouble brought on him through false accusations (verses 118, 86, 69), God's "law is truth" (verse 142)-genuine, dependable and right (compare verses 151, 160)-and His commandments bring true happiness and joy (verse 143). Like the psalmist's, all our present troubles are temporary, but God's righteousness is everlasting-and through God's Word we will live a life of everlasting righteousness (see verses 142, 144).
In the Qoph stanza (verses 145-152) the psalmist cries out desperately to God for help (verse 145-147), similar to his intense prayer in the earlier Kaph stanza (see verses 81-88). This intensity continues through the next three stanzas that close the psalm. Commentator Wiersbe remarks: "Have you noticed that the writer became more urgent as he drew near the end of the psalm? The Hebrew alphabet was about to end, but his trials would continue, and he needed the help of the Lord" (note on verses 153-160). The author still expresses his determination to continue in God's ways, but he knows that he cannot succeed-indeed, he cannot even live to try-without God's intervention and help.
He gets up early and lies awake late at night-through the night watches (sunset to 10, 10 to 2, and 2 to dawn)-crying to God for help and meditating on God's Word, in which he finds hope (verses 147-148; compare 5:3; 63:1, 6).
He asks again that God revive him (verse 149; compare verses 25, 37, 40, 88, 107, as well as 154, 156, 159)-to breathe life into him, to restore his spirits, to reawaken his hope. And this prayer in verse 149 is made according to God's hesed (covenant lovingkindness) and mishpat (judgment, rule for life)-reiterating his appeals in verses 124 and 132.
He then again presents the issue of his enemies. They draw near to him-that is, they are coming for him, to do him harm-and are thus far from God's law (verse 150). Yet God is near, able to intervene (verse 151; compare Acts 17:27-28). And since God's words are truth-true and faithful forever, as the poet closes this stanza (Psalm 119:152)-then God must intervene as He has promised in his law. Of course, God is not bound as to the manner of His intervention. Ultimately, He will work all things out to the eternal benefit of His servants (see Romans 8:28).
In the Resh strophe (verses 153-160) the psalmist three times asks God to "revive" him-to lift his spirits and see to his needs-here, as in other places, according to God's word, His judgments and His loyal lovingkindness (verses 154, 156, 159). In essence, the author is pleading with God to act because God has promised to, because this is what God's own laws demand and because God, in His care for His people, cannot fail to be moved by their plight with love and compassion to help them.
He asks God to plead or defend his cause in the manner of an advocate and mediator in a court of law (verse 154; compare 1 Samuel 24:15; Psalms 35:1; 43:1). And in his adversaries' case against him, they are the ones without a leg to stand on-having no legitimate cause against him, being lawbreakers themselves and having no one to stand for them, help them and save them. Moreover, God could override all of this by taking a further step.
The writer again asks God to redeem him (119:154; compare verse 134). To "redeem" means to "buy back," to "deliver by paying a price." God stated that a kinsman could buy back the property a poor relative had sold (Leviticus 25:25-28), as Boaz did on behalf of Naomi and Ruth. The language here is interesting in light of the psalmist's earlier request that God stand as surety for him (verse 122). Yet this goes even further. While the terminology of redemption often takes on in the Old Testament a general sense of deliverance from some overpowering circumstance, there is behind all this the legal foundation. There was a price for God to pay to redeem His people from the consequences of sin-a price paid through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The psalmist was ultimately reliant on this same redemption, which in his day was yet to come. Whether this was in his mind at the time or not, it was no doubt in the mind of the One who inspired the psalm.
Despite the many who oppose him, the psalmist is intent on staying the course of following God (verse 157). He is utterly disgusted by their treachery against God in the way they have rejected God's Word (verse 158). The Israelite nation was founded on Scripture, and yet the people and their leaders spurned its teachings. How true that is even today! The Israelite nations of today have, to varying degrees, been founded on scriptural principles. U.S. President Andrew Jackson said the Bible is "the rock on which our republic rests." And our countries have been immeasurably blessed by God. Yet today we see terrible treachery, as even in America displays of His commandments are unceremoniously marched out of courthouses by judicial decree. Even worse, many of God's laws are rejected by those who still profess to follow Him.
The poet ends the stanza with another declaration that God's Word is truth (verse 160). The Hebrew word rendered "entirety" here is rosh, which typically means "head." The King James Version translates this as "beginning." The focus here would be that God's Word has always been true and, as the rest of the verse maintains, it always will be. But others see rosh here as designating the "sum," in the sense of summit or summation,
thus explaining NKJV translation. This is the third declaration of the truth of God's Word in close proximity-the other two occurring in each of the two previous stanzas (verses 142, 151). Jesus Christ affirmed this when He prayed to God the Father, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). And in the certainty of His Word, its righteous judgments apply forever (Psalm 119:160). This should be a cause of concern to those who choose to reject God and His laws-and a cause of great hope to those who strive to follow God in keeping His Word.
In the Shin stanza (verses 161-168) the psalmist pauses from his crying out for help to again place his affliction in the context of God's Word: "Princes persecute me without a cause, but my heart stands in awe of Your word" (verse 161). He again rejoices in God's Word as a great treasure (verse 162; compare verses 14, 72, 127; see also Matthew 13:45-46). And he yet again proclaims, "I love Your law" (Psalm 119:163).
Praising "seven times a day" in verse 164 could be literal, but it more likely is meant in a figurative sense for "throughout the day"-the number seven representing completeness. It exceeded the typical three times per day mentioned elsewhere in Scripture (compare 55:17; Daniel 6:10-11). Most importantly note that these prayer times are times of hallel or "praise" for God's righteous judgments. This is not talking about constantly crying out to God for help in the midst of affliction-which the writer has also been doing. Rather, it describes his constant praise of God even in these hard times. This is a wonderful example for all of God's people.
The poet points out that all those who love God's law find a great sense of peace (Psalm 119:165)-of security and well-being-in studying God's teachings, meditating on them, practicing them. We find evidence of this sense of peace even in the midst of trial throughout the entirety of Psalm 119. In contrast to those have only a superficial awareness of the law, or those who reject it (verse 126), the psalmist understands that the law will benefit him throughout life. For those who love God's law, "nothing causes them to stumble" (verse 165). This is a better rendering in modern English than the King James Version's "nothing shall offend them"-for this older translation might today appear to say that God's people will never feel insulted or slighted-which is not at all what is intended by the original wording. The word mikshol here means a stumbling-block, an obstacle that causes one to fall. As long as God's people maintain their love and devotion to living as He commands, they will not be tripped up by circumstances because the law, either directly or in principle, addresses whatever they encounter (compare Proverbs 4:12; 1 John 2:10).
The basis for the peace the writer experiences-just as it is for all God's people-is trust in God's promises about the future,
knowing where life is headed beyond any present difficulties. As the next verse in Psalm 119 declares, "LORD, I
hope for Your salvation" (verse 166). And the hope here is a confident one. Others translate the verse to say, "I wait for your salvation" (NIV). As he waits expectantly, the psalmist continues to remain devoted to all of God's laws and follows them, recognizing that God is well aware of all he thinks and does (verses 166-168).
Finally in the Tau strophe (verses 169-176), the last stanza, the psalmist urgently summarizes his need and his steadfast devotion. With the alphabet exhausted, the poet fills his concluding strophe with repeated cries for help. In a barrage of petitions, he five times uses the word "let" along with the words "give," "deliver" and "seek." "Let my cry...[and] my supplication come before You," he pleads (verses 169, 170). "Let Your hand...[and] Your judgments help me" (verses 173, 175). "Let my soul live" (verse 175). "Give me understanding" (verse 169). "Deliver me" (verse 170). "Seek your servant" (verse 176).
Verse 172 gives us an important definition of righteousness, stating that all of God's commandments are righteousness-that is, the way of perfect alignment with Him. This is important for Christians today to understand in striving for righteousness. It means not only receiving forgiveness for past sin, but striving thereafter to live as God commands-to keep His commandments in their full spiritual intent as illustrated by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Of course, this is only possible with the help of God Himself-as the author well understood (see verse 35). Today we have the further revelation in the New Testament that this is accomplished through Jesus Christ living within us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In verse 174 the psalmist again expresses his longing for God's salvation-which could apply to immediate rescue or ultimate deliverance in the future resurrection to eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps both are intended.
In closing, the writer of this psalm sees himself like a lost sheep having strayed and now in need of rescue (verse 176). This may be an acknowledgment of sin (as his earlier one in verse 67), though he has not strayed in that way during his affliction (verse 110). It could simply be that he is saying that he's in a predicament he can't get out of-just as a lost sheep. This is certainly true when it comes to the human condition in terms of sin-and this simile is used elsewhere in that sense (compare Isaiah 53:6; 1 Peter 2:25; Luke 15:4-7). Whatever his exact meaning, the author desperately needs the intervention of the Good Shepherd to come and rescue His sheep-His follower, His servant.
This request is made on the basis of being a faithful servant-one who remembers God's commandments. While he was clearly not sinless, the psalmist counted himself among the righteous. He loved God's law and made it his chief delight (verse 174). His desire was to live and praise God (verses 171, 175). He integrated God's Word into his life. He walked in conformity to God's will in contrast with the unrighteous who had no desire to live obediently. God does not obligate Himself to aid the wicked. But He offers abundant help to His servants (Psalms 23; 121).
The belief that he was among the righteous whom God rewards gave the writer of Psalm 119 confidence to make his requests. And so it is with us today. For as the New Testament tells us in 1 John 3:22, "Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."